Let's return to what happened with Anne S., who I introduced in the last post. The highlights are that I met this woman in September of 2005, when she was 79, slowing down from many medical issues unrelated to cancer, wary about chemo, and with a cancer that was metastatic but that had progressed only minimally in the months between the initial detection of her cancer and when I first saw her. We agreed that attentive follow-up made sense.
In addition to the presentations about the evidence, I thought it might be helpful to highlight some of my own clinic cases that can illustrate how I use the principles in practice. These cases should highlight that many if not most people don't exactly follow the "classic" example, and that if we were to open the case files from most oncologists, we'd find that it's very common (and appropriate) to bend the guidelines, to individualize based on the particular issues of a specific person. And I think it may also be helpful to see the range of what's possible.
I doubt there is a group of lung cancer patients more common but less well studied than the substantial subset of frail and/or very elderly patients with advanced NSCLC. While “elderly” patients, usually defined as age 70, have been evaluated as a subset of the population in larger studies and even been the subject of specific studies just for the elderly, most of this work has shown that fit elderly patients do as well as younger patients getting the same aggressive treatment.
In Japan, a different chemotherapy approach than cisplatin doublet chemo has been used in the post-operative setting. In contrast to the North American and European approach of 3-4 cycles of platinum-based chemo, in Japan they have studied an oral chemotherapy called UFT, a combination of uracil and tegafur. This combination is in the same family as an old chemo drug called 5-FU that is still used in various settings today, although not commonly in lung cancer.
One of the core ideas in the management of stage III, or locally advanced, NSCLC is that unresectable disease that is being treated with curative intent is most effectively treated with a combination of concurrent systemic ("whole body") therapy and chest radiation to all of the visible cancer.
Please Note: New Treatments Have Emerged Since this Original Post
Completing the analysis of the randomized trial that compared alimta (pemetrexed) and taxotere (docetaxel) in second line treatment of NSCLC (abstract here), which showed nearly identical response rates and survival but a more favorable side effect profile with alimta, another retrospective review of results looked at differences between the arms in older vs.
One of the issues we struggle the most with, as oncologists, patients, and families, is how to choose a therapy that won’t make someone feel worse. There are so many things to factor into these decisions: what is the baseline function of the person, what comorbidities (other chronic illnesses) might interact or interfere, what side effects are acceptable or worth the risk, to what degree is the cancer interfering with their functioning and can this be reversed with chemo, and of course what does any individual patient want and expect from chemo?
Despite the fact that a very significant proportion of the "real world" patients have considerable medical problems such as markedly decreased lung function (pretty common with many years of smoking), weight loss (5 or 10% of body weight is usually considered a problem), or otherwise are not able to be very active.
Comparison of Iressa to Single Agent Chemo in First Line treatment for Elderly Advanced NSCLC Patients: The INVITE Trial
In addition to a direct comparison of iressa to chemo in the second line setting for advanced NSCLC (see recent post on INTEREST trial), as conducted with the INTEREST trial I described in a recent post, a very similar comparison of Iressa to chemo was also performed in another setting where single-agent chemo is also the treatment of choice. Specifically, the INVITE trial evaluated iressa vs.